We are moving toward winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. This year, I’m excited about this season because I’ve been obsessing about the power and the value of darkness.
It is human nature to yearn for light rather than dark, to prize action over inaction, order over chaos, agreement over disagreement, success over failure, answers over questions. But none of these can exist without the other. To resist one is to weaken the power of its counterpart, rendering an existence that is shallow and fragile.
I recently re-read a blog post I wrote two years ago about entering into the holiday season with peace and ease. It contains so many helpful ideas and suggestions about how to navigate the holidays healthfully. Yet reading it, I realized how much my thinking and health practice have changed in the last two years. Yes, I still prize an action-oriented response to self-care.
But now, I’m equally fascinated by the things that don’t get done. Even though we know so much about taking good care of ourselves, we act on so much less than we know, right? We resist doing the very things we know would help us. Typically, this imbalance between knowledge and action creates a festering infection of self-criticism and even self-hatred. (Ask me. I know.)
In our productivity-worshiping culture, we want to be all “yang,” all outward action. In the face of “failure” we are taught and encouraged to grit our teeth, work harder and get more disciplined. Not sticking to your exercise routine or latest diet? Well, dammit, then tomorrow you have further to run and fewer calories to enjoy. Didn’t get all you needed to done today? Then skip breakfast and get into the office early tomorrow. This military (and masculine) model of discipline only serves to override those pockets of resistance, stuffing the emotion and pain residing within.
Suppressed or ignored too long and the emotions and pain become a force that work against us, as Carl Jung famously identified in his discussion of the shadow self. Self-sabotage, anyone?
The action-oriented bootstrap approach will never be successful (for long) without balancing action with reflection and rest. We really have to bring some yin to our incessant yang, y’all. The introspective, dark, feminine energy must have its proper place in our lives, our homes and in society.
Yet we struggle with rest, feeling like it’s lost time, or that we don’t deserve it. We want to get back to spring without going through a necessary winter, which is, of course, in defiance of natural and spiritual law.
Pre-Christian people who lived far north had a way of giving in to the short and cold days where there was little light or life. They would come away from their fields, put away their tools and bring their daily routine to a halt. They removed the wheels from their carts, decorating them with greens, and hung them for decoration. The decorated wheels were a signal that this season was a time to stop and turn inward. Rather than resisting the dark, they engaged in the emptiness. Only by giving in to the gifts of darkness and allowing the passage of time would the sun be wooed back.
Imagine if this season we took a wheel off of our vehicle and hung it inside, making it impossible to be endlessly busy. Instead, we’d be forced to slow down and engage with the winter and our own primal darkness.
Sacrifice, sacre ficere, means to make holy, healthy, whole. Sacrificing “our wheels” or our incessant movement and productivity could make this season holy. Practicing stillness over time could make us whole. During this season, the darkness lures and invites us to be vulnerable, unfinished, imperfect, and quiet. Just like plowed fields must be left unsown for a period in order to restore their fertility, must we experience and explore the darkness in our own lives. This time of quiet in the darkness makes the productivity of spring possible. Don’t skip it.
As my yoga teacher Janine encourages, “Feel into the dark places, then bring the light.”
In this busy season, I wish you a spacious and holy emptiness. Pay kind attention to what is dark.